Two Transcons, by the numbers

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ever wonder what just how many trains are out there at any one time on BNSF Railway’s two transcontinental routes, the ones from Chicago to Los Angeles and Chicago to Seattle? Now you are going to know.

Someone sent me snapshots of the trains occupying those two routes on mid-afternoon of a recent day. So let’s begin with the southern Transcon. Are you ready? There were 252 trains roaming that corridor, or about one for every nine miles of that 2,232-mile line. Of these, 44 (17 percent) were manifest trains, 131 (52 percent) intermodal trains and the rest everything else. Breaking down the intermodal segment, 36 were expedited Z trains, 54 were domestic Q trains, and 41 were international S trains.

Chicago to Seattle had a far more diverse lineup, with this glaring absence: BNSF has resymboled its expedited Z trains to instead become Q trains (not as swift) and for now punted most if not all of the United Parcel Service and less-than-truckload trailers to either Union Pacific or the interstate highways. When it reachieves a disciplined, scheduled operation, most of that traffic will come back.

The northern Transcom head count was 199 trains, or one train every 11 miles. I counted 22 passenger trains (there are commuter zones west of Chicago and Minneapolis), 43 manifest trains, 30 intermodal trains, 23 grain trains, and 30 oil trains. Four of those oil trains were eastbounds stashed in sidings between Aurora and Savanna, Ill., waiting to be staged to eastern railroads. Not included in this counts were trains between Fargo and Minot, N.D., via Grand Forks, or those west of Spokane toward Portland.

If you ever wondered, now you don’t have to.—Fred W. Frailey

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